IPL 2019: MS Dhoni, the last man standing in league of nail-biting finishes
Season after season, for India and his franchise, Dhoni has delivered. Thus, it came as no surprise that coach Stephen Fleming wasn’t surprised.Updated: Apr 23, 2019 09:40 IST
Agony, anger and then ecstasy, Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium has seen these emotions this Indian Premier League season. In a format where nail-biting finishes are the norm, teams still seem to revel in leaving it till late.
Sunday night’s escape by Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore — it was that for the hosts after Umesh Yadav, bowling the last over with Chennai Super Kings needing an improbable 25 runs to force a tie and Super Over, bled 24 in five deliveries.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the master of that calm-and-storm approach, had been fed a low full toss off the fifth delivery, which was put away for six. Few would have bet against Dhoni, the only Indian batsman who matches the power of foreign hitters, not getting the two runs off the last ball.
But Dhoni’s swish and miss outside off-stump and the bid to scramble a bye resulting in Shardul Thakur’s run out, gave RCB victory. The M Chinnaswamy Stadium swathed in red and gold erupted in joy as bottom-placed RCB got only the third win of the season. It was a solace for Virat Kohli. Earlier this season, the India skipper and his team were undone after Mumbai Indians stole a six-run win in a last-ball finish. With AB de Villiers breathing fire, RCB would have expected the South African to hit a maximum to tie. Lasith Malinga’s craft carried the day, or so Bangalore thought, till it emerged moments after the game that the his front-foot no-ball was missed by the umpire.
This IPL season has seen one-third of the matches spill into the final over, excitement building into a crescendo. Twenty-six of the 39 matches until Sunday were decided in the final over. Five of them were not decided until the last delivery. RCB, CSK and MI were involved in these thrillers twice each. Only Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai have won both games — chasing and defending — while the other two are 1-1. Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals were at the receiving end, losing to MI and CSK, respectively.
Dhoni has been the go-to batsman down the years in last-gasp finishes; against RR, he came in with Chennai 24/4 chasing 152; after a 43-ball 58, he fell with his team needing eight runs off the last three deliveries. Ravindra Jadeja and Mitchell Santner got the team across the line.
Season after season, for India and his franchise, Dhoni has delivered. Thus, it came as no surprise that coach Stephen Fleming wasn’t surprised. Though the last-ball run out spoilt the fun, the former New Zealand skipper brushed aside a question on Dhoni refusing singles to Dwayne Bravo earlier.
“I think the reason was Dhoni felt he was best equipped to hit those sixes,” said Fleming. “The way he calculates the last few overs based on his power, he probably felt he needed four-five sixes to win. He’s so calculative that I would never question. Bravo has got power but if MS is feeling he’s going to win it this way, then back him every time.”
Wasn’t it an anti-climax that Dhoni failed to connect the last ball? “To look at the last ball, you’re forgetting how he got us that close. We should have won.”
KKR maybe on a downward spiral, but Andre Russell’s big-hitting has helped them breathe easy whatever the target. The Jamaican hasn’t been partial to bowlers when batting first, though he is at a different level when a target is dangled in front of him.
Kohli’s excitement was apparent as he animatedly ran through the final over with a calm Dhoni, moments after the game. “A whole lot of emotions,” he said. “We thought we were outstanding with the ball till the 19th over… MS did what he does best and gave us a scare.”
Dhoni though could have been talking about a different game. “It was more of a calculation mistake that we lost wickets early on. T20 is all about taking risks, but you can still calculate. It was still difficult at the death if you bowl that back of the length. The ball wasn’t coming on to the bat. We needed a lot of boundaries. Now you can calculate, one run there and two runs there, and we just lost by one run. But you can also say we missed some boundaries.”
Instinct may decide last-ball finishes, but calculations get teams to the brink.